Word Count: about 4700
Rating: R (language)
Characters/Pairing: mostly gen, some very brief Sam/Jess
Notes: for challenge 7 (prompt 3) at spnmysteryyears: Sam and Dean have not seen each other in over a year. Sam answers a heavy knock at the door, and opens it to look straight into his brother's shining eyes. Thanks a million-bajillion to berylicious977 and divajess for the beta and encouragement.
Disclaimer: Characters and universe are Kripke's. Not mine.
Summary: Sam went to Stanford for a normal life. He's trying really hard, but when Dean shows up in Palo Alto wounded, he finds himself hunting again.
On the last week of April in his sophomore year, Jess's great aunt died. She was ninety-eight years old, and it hadn't come as much of a surprise. Sam offered to go with her to the funeral, but she told him no--it was a long trip, and he had a paper due Wednesday. Both of these things were true, so he didn't put up much of a fight. He put her bag in the back seat of the car and opened her door.
"You gonna be okay? Sure you don't want company?" he asked, worried that he might be breaking some sort of unspoken boyfriend rule, not insisting on going with her.
"Yeah," she said, reassuring smile lighting up her face, evening sunlight bouncing off the apples of her cheeks. "I'll be fine. I'm just worried about Mom." Her smile faded. "They were really close when she was growing up."
"Be careful on the road," he said. "Call me when you get there."
"I will, Dad," she said.
He blushed and felt his lip quirk upward just a little, and at that she wrapped her arms around him, twining her fingers in the hair at the back of his neck. He brushed her nose with his before he kissed her, slow and sweet.
"Just. Be careful," he said.
"I will. I'll call you in a few hours."
He hugged her tightly and kissed her again before she got in the car and drove away.
Inside, their apartment was quiet, save for the quiet hum of the refrigerator--too quiet for writing right now. So, Sam made himself a sandwich and flipped on the television, finding an old rerun of The Rockford Files. He smiled to himself before taking a bite that eliminated almost a quarter of his sandwich, propping his feet up on the coffee table. The first commercial break told him that he was in the middle of a marathon, and Sam could think of no better way to spend his Friday night.
Jim Rockford ducked a punch before running the other guy into the wall, when a too loud banging at his front door made him jump. Bang, bang, bang! Sam could see the door shake.
Unsettled, he thought of the knife he kept in the box in his desk drawer, and he cursed his sweat pants and bare feet. On his way to the door, he swung by the small kitchenette, grabbing a mustard-covered butter knife from the counter, gripping it tightly in his hand as he went quietly to the door.
Bang, bang, bang!
Sam steeled himself with a breath, seeing nothing in the peep-hole; whatever was on the other side was too close. He turned the knob, opening the door quickly, knife hand raised high, ready, hidden behind the door.
Nothing could have prepared him for what was really waiting for him. At first, it was unclear--whoever was out there had slumped over, hand braced against the door jam, head bowed. But, only a fraction of a second later, he raised his head, and Sam found himself eye to eye with his brother for the first time in over a year.
Sam blinked, slowly dropping his arm, grip loosening on the knife. He could feel his eyebrows knit together in confusion.
"Sam," Dean said again--quiet. "You gotta let me in."
That was when Sam noticed the blood--dripping from Dean's soaked tee shirt, dropping quarter sized red splotches over his welcome mat.
"Oh, my God," Sam said, and he moved forward only a step before Dean fell against him, knees buckling. Sam gripped him under his shoulders before hoisting him back onto his feet, helping him to a kitchen chair.
"What the hell happened, Dean?" Sam asked.
"Little hunting accident," Dean said through gritted teeth. "Angry spirit in a Belmont butcher shop didn't take too kindly to me rummaging around the old place. Fucker got me with a cleaver."
Dean then lifted up the hem of his tee shirt, wincing. Sam watched in horror as he revealed a gash running from just above his navel, disappearing underneath the shirt where it still covered his shoulders.
"Jesus Christ!" Sam said, quickly helping Dean off with his shirt before running to the kitchen for a towel. "Where's Dad?"
Dean didn't answer the question, averting his eyes, focusing on the towel against his wound. Sam quickly made his way to the bedroom closet and found his first aid kit that Jess didn't know about. He'd hidden it inside last year's now hollowed out philosophy text at the bottom of a pile of other books. He also grabbed the regular kit from the bathroom and some old towels, laying them out on the couch before helping Dean over to it. He couldn't do this with Dean sitting.
"Just sit tight," he said, giving Dean's good shoulder a light squeeze. "I'll be right back." He opened the cabinet in the kitchen that they used to store their liquor. He had to dig behind bottles of vanilla vodka and neon green Midori before finding the Jack Daniels in the back. When he got to the couch, he held out the bottle to Dean. "Here," he said. Dean struggled to heft himself up slightly onto his elbows.
"Thanks." Dean took the bottle, immediately downing three large swallows, and Sam set the liquor aside as Dean settled back down.
The first thing Sam did was pour almost an entire bottle of hydrogen peroxide in the wound, watching the foam bubble and pink up with blood before patting it dry as gently as he could. Dean sucked air in through his teeth, slamming his head backward into the couch pillows, letting out a growl of pain. Sam could now see how deep the wound really was. He tried not to gasp.
"Don't be such a baby," he said, and he didn't know if he was talking to Dean or to himself.
He cleaned the wound out again, clearing congealed blood away from the skin, carefully placing fresh gauze over it to keep it from getting dirty again. He gave Dean the bottle one more time as he got the needle and stitching thread out of the kit. He fished in his pocket for his lighter, flicking it open and holding the flame to the needle for a good minute before ripping open the package of thread. Then, he set to the work he had told himself he never wanted to do again.
He'd never had to do this many stitches before, and when he'd gotten to the halfway point over Dean's chest, he'd figured that the most he'd ever done before was ten. Ten stitches to his dad's back after that run-in with an Aswang in Washington. He was fifteen. He worked slow and steady, apologizing sometimes when Dean's breathing hitched a little harder.
Neither one of them said a word as Sam fed the needle into the skin on one side of Dean's gash and out the other. He tried to keep it as neat and even as he could, and as he snipped the thread after the last one, he sighed and surveyed his work. He may not have had to do this in almost two years, but in that moment, it was like writing papers and Jess and Stanford and normal were nothing but a stop-gap, that this was what he was born to do. That thought made his stomach roll.
He pinched the bridge of his nose and took a deep breath. Then he set to work, carefully covering the stitches with gauze and tape.
"All done," he said, and Dean sighed.
"How many?" Dean asked, eyes closed.
"Thirty-six," Sam answered, packing away the stuff from the kits and bundling up the bloody towels and gauze. He would need to burn them--didn't want the risk of someone finding them and asking questions.
"Thanks, Sammy," Dean said.
"Why did you come here, Dean?" Sam asked. "Why couldn't Dad patch you up back at the hotel?"
Dean didn't answer, so Sam called his name again.
The only response was Dean's slow and even breathing. He'd fallen asleep. Sam couldn't blame him--the ebbing of adrenaline from the hunt, a near-fatal wound, and half a bottle of whiskey could make a guy tired. He picked up his cell phone and scrolled down to his dad's entry in the address book. His thumb hovered over the call button for a long time before he hit the red one instead, closing out the address book. If his dad gave a shit, he'd call himself.
-- -- --
The next morning, Sam woke to the smell of coffee and sound of Led Zeppelin playing much too loudly. It was 7:00. He'd only been asleep for four hours. He stared at the ceiling for a good long while before he got up with a heavy sigh.
When he walked into the living room, Dean was on the phone. Sam shrank back into the dark of the doorway and listened.
"Yeah, it was a mean son of a bitch," Dean said. In the pause that followed, his face fell.
"Got me pretty good. A couple of stitches, but I'll be all right." Dean's mouth drew into a tight line.
"Yes, I can."
"I can handle it, Dad."
"Well, then. Maybe you should have come along."
"I don't know. Maybe."
"It'll get done."
"All right. See you in a few days."
"Bye." Dean flipped the phone closed and spoke loudly to the doorway where Sam had been hiding. "Get all that, Sam?"
Sam came out, sheepish. "Some of it," he said, ducking into the kitchen to get himself a cup of coffee. When he came back to the living room, he sat down on the couch. "Dad's not coming?"
"He's in Arkansas," Dean said, sipping his coffee, not looking at Sam.
"Why are you here, Dean?" Sam asked.
"Dad got a tip about something killin' people--fourteen deaths over the last couple of decades--you know the drill." Dean paused. He was definitely not saying something.
"That still doesn't explain why you're here and Dad's half a dozen states away."
"I took this job on my own," Dean said, voice flat.
Sam let out a huff of disbelieving laughter. "Dad let you hunt on your own?"
"I'm a big boy now, Sammy." He still wasn't saying something.
Sam didn't say a word, drawing his lips into a tight line, pointedly looking anywhere but Dean's face.
Dean cleared his throat. "Dad doesn't take jobs anywhere near San Francisco. He always gives them to other hunters."
"He was gonna pass this one off, too, but I told him I'd take it myself. We got into it a little over the whole thing, actually. In the end, I left, and he sent me a text with coordinates to let me know where he was headed." He took the last sip of his coffee and tried standing up to get another cup, wincing and breathing hard.
"Sit down," Sam said. "I'll get it."
"Thanks," Dean said.
As Sam was spooning sugar into the cups, he shouted over his shoulder, "So this thing you were after last night--did you get it? After it got you?"
"No," Dean said.
Sam walked back to the living room and handed Dean his mug. "What's the story, then?"
"Well, a couple of days ago I'd gotten the grave salted and burned, but the damn thing came back the next night and nearly killed a couple of stupid kids who'd gone into the place on a dare. So, I went back last night to see what else could be holding it here. I searched that shop up one way and down the other, but fuck me. I couldn't find a damn thing."
Then, Sam's phone rang. It was Jess. "Hey," he said into the mouthpiece, trying to even out his voice.
"Hey," she said.
"How are you? How's your mom?"
"I'm good. Mom's okay. Sad, but okay. We spent hours last night trading funny stories of the things she did with Nanny when they were kids and the stuff Mom got up to. That helped, I think."
Sam wondered what would happen if Dean or Dad died. Would they have funny stories to tell, any levity at all? Or, would they simply stand silent and broken before a burning corpse?
Jess's voice brought him out of his reverie. "The funeral's Monday morning, and I should be home by Tuesday evening. You sound tired--is everything okay?"
He thought about telling her that Dean was here, but he didn't really want to talk to her about him. She knew he had a brother, a father, that his mom was dead, but very little apart from that. He wasn't ready yet to tell her everything. He didn't know how much he could not say once he started talking, so he just said, "I'm good. But, yeah--tired. Stayed up too late last night."
"Out with they guys while the girlfriend's away?" He could hear the trace of a smile in her voice.
He hated lying to her. Every time, he could feel the guilt of it like a weight pressing heavily on his chest. "Yeah," he lied. "I'll just have to take it easy today."
"Okay," she said. "I love you. I'll see you Tuesday."
"Yeah, love you, too. Bye."
The second he ended the call, Dean was making kissy faces at him. "I love you, Sammy."
"You're an asshole."
"So, you went and got yourself a steady girl. I have to admit, I am impressed."
Sam said nothing.
"How long you been seein' her?"
"About a year now," Sam said.
"My, my. Well, little brother... What's her name?"
"Where is she? Do I get to meet her?"
"No. I mean. Maybe someday, but she's out of town for a few days."
Dean took a minute to look around, looking pointedly at his coffee mug--a heavy thing from Pier 1 with painted flowers. Then, he took in the curtains on the windows and the framed posters--Van Gogh's sunflowers and Monet's water lillies.
"Wait," he said. "Wait just a minute here... Are you? Is this? My little brother shackin' up with his lady friend." His smile was wide, but something behind his eyes looked hurt.
Sam wanted to drop the subject. He cleared his throat. "So, this thing from last night. Tell me everything you know." He got out his laptop and started researching. That feeling of stop-gap that he had last night came back with a vengeance. He shook his head, but he kept on looking and listening. He had until Tuesday before Dean needed to be gone.
-- -- --
Dean couldn't go with him. He could barely sit up, much less go hunting, so Sam was doing the job alone, which he'd never done before. The image of Dean's wound, bloody and ugly and deep, blossomed behind his eyes, and he shook the vision away. He knew he was out of practice, rusty and spoiled by his own forced ignorance. He really wanted to find whatever it was keeping the ghost here during the day--with sunlight on his side. Not that the ghost would mind if the sun was out or not, but daylight made him feel less vulnerable. He folded himself behind the wheel of the Impala, fired it up, and drove a little more than twenty minutes to the address Dean had given him.
The old shop was in a bad part of town--surrounded by other abandoned and run-down shops. There was a working convenience store across the street and a barber's two places down. There weren't many pedestrians, and for that he was thankful. The window still had the remnants of the old signage, chipped red, yellow, and blue paint that now said 'Bu c er'. The condemned notice still hung on the front door -- Trespassers will be prosecuted.
He made his way around to the back, finding an entrance off the main street. He touched the knife at his ankle and the gun in the waistband of his jeans, grounding himself, before he pulled the lock picks from his jacket pocket. He had it open in under half a minute.
"Like riding a bike," he said to himself, re-pocketing the picks, and he tried not to be too pleased that he'd done it so quickly.
Inside, everything was gray and dark, sunlight barely making it through the dirty windows. He could see footprint smudges, some old and already covering with a fine layer of dust, but others--Dean's, the teenagers' from last night--were fresh. He started with the back room he was in. It probably used to be a store room. Shelves lined the walls, a few rotting boxes on the highest shelves. He pulled the boxes down, hoping to find something, but no. There were only old shipping slips and invoices. He went to the next room--an old office, now abandoned, save for one desk and a broken chair on top. As he opened the top drawer to see what he could find, he felt it.
The temperature dropped so fast that his breath fogged in front of his face. He turned around quickly, drawing his gun, cocking it ready. Nothing was there. He took a deep, steadying breath and kept looking. He didn't find anything that looked like it would tether a ghost to this world, so he went carefully to the front of the shop.
He could see old blood on the floor, and in here there was much more left over shop stuff--wooden counters covered in stains, large knives, and glass fronted cases that used to be attached to a refrigeration unit. As he walked behind the counter, scouring the shelves behind the counter for anything that might mean something, he felt his foot collide with something. The sound of metal scraping the linoleum caught his attention, and he bent down. He'd kicked something under one of the display units.
Crouching down, Sam could see something underneath, and he carefully maneuvered his hand so that he could get to it. What he pulled out was a cleaver, covered in sticky dried blood--Dean's. Sam shuddered and looked back to the place where he felt his foot collide with it. Sure enough, there were large splatters of Dean's blood.
He left for Stanford hoping against hope to never see anyone's blood on a knife again. He wanted more than anything to have left this behind him, but even when he had a paper due next week, an inter-mural soccer tournament coming up, a girlfriend and an apartment he'd lived in for almost a whole school year now--the reality was there, on the knife in his hands.
As he investigated the bloody spot, he only half registered something flash at the corner of his eye, but it was enough. He got his head out of the way just in time for a trimming knife to whiz by and land solidly in the wall next to him. He rolled quickly, but he was not fast enough to escape one of the shelves falling hard, crashing into his shoulder, pinning him against the floor.
"Shit," he said under his breath.
Then he saw it. A tall, broad figure of mostly white wearing a butcher's apron, dark splotches mottling the front, one arm mangled and useless. His face looked like rotted flesh, and Sam could see how the wound on his arm had killed him--a severed artery in a freak accident with a meat grinder.
The figure lunged at him, and Sam pushed at the shelf with all his might, getting it off of him just enough for him to break free. He drew his gun, quickly shooting a round of rock salt directly into the ghost's chest. The figure scattered, and Sam knew he would have to hurry. Now that the spirit knew he was here, he wouldn't leave him alone for long.
"Come on, come on..." he urged himself, scanning the room quickly. "What's here? It has to be something."
He heard the creaking hinges of a door at the back of the shop. He rolled his injured shoulder, trying to loosen it up a little, and he kept his gun ready as he followed the sound.
He found a metal door swinging open. It led to what used to be a large walk-in refrigerator--large meat hooks still lined up on the rails at the ceiling, rows of metal shelves along the walls. He was only in the room for a minute before the door slammed shut. It was near to pitch black.
"God damn it!" he shouted, working the door latch with all his might. The door wouldn't open. He kicked at it and tried getting it with his good shoulder. The spirit had locked him in. He was not getting out of here unless he found a way to get rid of the ghost.
Frantically searching every corner with a flashlight, he found nothing. He looked at every shelf, checked the rails, looked under everything, but he didn't see anything. He went back to the door, but it still would not budge. He slid down the door in frustration, sitting hard on the ground. When his butt hit the floor, though, the linoleum tile under him slid.
"What the..." Sam quickly got up, crouching above the tile. He shifted it with his hand. There was nothing underneath it but bare concrete--it was just a loose tile, but he knew. He knew what he needed was here. He went to work checking each tile.
When he was halfway down the room, the walls began to shake, the metal shelves deafening. The temperature was dropping fast, and he could see the flicker of the ghost's image off to his right. He aimed his gun and shot it easily, but it was back in no time. One thing he knew for sure--he didn't have much longer to look before the ghost would kill him. He worked faster. Four tiles later, he found it.
He lifted the tile more quickly than the others--it had already been loosened from years of wear followed by years of dust. What he found was the tiniest fragment of a bone--no longer than an inch, probably from one of the guy's fingers. He bit back the thought of meat grinders and pain as he set it on one of the metal shelves, opening one of the extra rounds of rock-salt shells for his gun. He quickly poured the salt. He dug out his lighter, breaking off the top easily, dousing the salt and the bone in butane. Out of his back pocket, he found a book of matches from the bar that he and Jess liked to go to.
He said a prayer as he struck the match on the back of the book. He lit the rest of the matches with the first. The walls around him were shaking, the noise making his head feel like it would explode in any moment. The figure appeared before him again, lunging toward him, trying to knock the lit matches from his hand.
Sam dropped them onto the salted bone and held his breath.
Before him, the figure went up in flames. The room became quiet. The door opened on its own.
-- -- --
It was near to dark when he got back to the apartment, and Dean was on the couch, television tuned to the Rockford marathon. He was sitting up, drinking one of Sam's beers.
"Dude," Dean said, taking in Sam's dirty face and clothes, cradling his injured arm with his good one. "What happened?"
"Finger bone in the walk-in. Under a tile. Ghost's gone."
"Hurt my shoulder, but it'll be fine in a couple of days. It's not dislocated." He rotated it for show. "How are you holding up--stitches ok? Let me see."
"Doin' good, I think. Hurts like a motherfucker, though." He lifted his shirt. The gauze was mostly clean, only a few places where he'd bled through.
"Hunting alone, man," Sam said, grabbing a beer for himself from the fridge. "Sucks."
"Yeah," Dean said, holding up his beer, tilting it toward Sam. Sam knocked the neck of his bottle against Dean's. "We got 'em, though, right?"
"Yeah," Sam said. "We got 'em."
-- -- --
On Tuesday morning, Sam found Dean sitting at the kitchen table, reading from Sam's laptop. He was scrolling through the website for the Pensacola News Journal.
"Dad sent me new coordinates. Three deaths over the past two weeks at this park in Pensicola. Bodies mutilated. Authorities think it's some kind of animal attack."
Sam went to pour himself a cup of coffee. "It could be," Sam said from the kitchen. "An animal attack."
"Oh, come on, Sammy. You know it probably isn't--Dad sent coordinates. That's where he's headed."
Sam walked back into the living room, taking a sip of coffee that burned his tongue. He set the cup down on the table.
"And you're just gonna follow like a good little soldier," Sam said, voice flat. It wasn't a question.
"Yes, I am." Dean's jaw was working as the rest of his face turned to stone.
"Dean, you're in no shape for hunting! You're gonna get yourself killed." Sam indicated Dean's torso with a gaping sweep of his arm.
Dean shut the laptop and sighed. "I'll be all right, Sam."
"Listen, you could just stay here. With Jess and me. For a couple of weeks--until the stitches can come out."
Dean let out a huff of unamused laughter. "What, and interrupt the happy little picket fence life you've got goin' on here? I don't think so."
"Why are you so eager to drop everything, just to prove something to Dad? You shouldn't be working in your condition."
"I can take care of myself." Dean stood up heavily, taking his time to straighten his middle, every movement betraying the amount of pain he was in. "Pensacola is where Dad said to go, so that is where I'm going. Just because you decided to leave doesn't mean we can ignore what's out there--killing people."
"I'm not ignoring it, Dean. I just want--"
"What, Sam? What in the hell do you want?"
"I just want to be normal, you know. I just want--" He let the word safe die in his throat as he sat heavily on one of the other kitchen chairs.
"You want normal. I get it. But, that's not the life for me--not now. Probably not ever." He walked toward the couch and gathered up the strap of his duffel bag. "Unlike you, I can't ignore what I know is real--those nightmare things that everyone else tells themselves are just stories. I know better. And you know better, too, Sammy."
Dean hit a nerve. Sam tried to push down the guilt that his last statement had caused. "Jess will be home in a couple of hours, Dean, and I'd love for you to meet her. I'd love for you to stay, but you're gonna do what you want." Sam paused, shaking his head. Now, all he felt was the anger and annoyance that came side-by-side with anything having to do with his father. "No, not what you want--what Dad wants. It's what you always do."
"What I always do, Sammy? Stick by my family? Yeah--I do. You seem to be doin' just fine out here in your pretend little safe world. It's fairy land, Sam, but yeah--you go ahead and keep your head in the sand. You said it yourself--hunting alone sucks, and I won't leave Dad to do it. I can't believe that you would." Dean chuckled again, dry and humorless, shaking his head. "But you already left. You already left us alone."
"Hey," Sam said, defensive. "Dad's the one that said to stay gone. I guess I'm just following orders, too."
"Whatever, Sam." Dean walked to the door. "I gotta get going. I'll see you around."
Sam wanted to leave it like that. Wanted to just be angry and hurt and sure that he was right. But, he couldn't.
"Be careful," Sam said.
"You've got my number, Sammy," Dean said, squeezing his shoulder roughly on his way out the door.
Sam told himself over and over that wanting a normal life was okay, but watching Dean leave, hunched and slow-moving, he worried. He always did. Worried about Dean, worried about his dad, worried about Jess and the other friends he'd made here. He wanted to find a middle ground, but he knew that it was too shaky. For now he could write his paper, go to class, be with Jess, be normal. But, he knew, in the end that Dean was right.
He heard the sound of the Impala's engine fire up and fade as Dean drove away.
One thing Sam could never do is pretend to himself that he didn't know what it was that went bump in the night.
-- End --